One of the great victims of the modern era of calculation and valuation is imagination. In the reduction of values to the numerical, i.e. popularity, Van Gogh = $23,000,000, and so on, the possible has been reduced to the probable.
The possible is only limited by Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, and the probable, for man, is what he limits himself to.
I remember our shaykh, Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi telling us once that, “You do not learn adab by sitting upright and abiding by the rules, but by going beyond adab you discover its form”. I understood this to mean that living within a set pattern and applying its known shape does not allow you to see its reality. It is like having all the information on a place but never having been there; living in a house never having been outside.
Imagination is critical to belief, trust and love. When Allah speaks to us through His generous book about what went before and what will come after, it is impossible to be affected by it without imagining it. Imagination limits our behaviour for fear of consequence and spurs us ever onward with desire for reward. Taking on the behaviour of the Muslim, following the Rasulullah only has meaning for us in imagining the benefits, achieving his love and fearing separation. The people of great achievement are the people of great imagination and there is much that needs to be achieved. Imagination is not an end in itself but a necessary beginning to accomplishment. This is what places the word above the number. Today number has triumphed over speech, even though there have never been so many words; they are all subservient to profit. Elysium is obscured by Mammon, honour by avarice, heroism by pragmatism. Speech stirs the imagination and awakens the heart to possibilities but number triggers the abacus of the brain to calculate the plus and minus.
Lack of imagination has its culmination in disaster; an inability to recognise the signs written on the wall of impending destruction ties the dull to an ignominious fate. Do not make the mistake of thinking imagination is fantasy as the one is sourced in reality and the other not. The numbering of the Qur’an is by ayah, sign. The words of Allah are an indication of the Real calling on our hearts to grasp the ungraspable in order that our hearts, in turn, are grasped. The Qur’an is the recitation and not the writing; the writing of the Basmal is a trace of its resonance, which is a trace of its reality, so how absurd is the obsession of the Muslims with the number 786; transforming the sublime into number is probably a reflection of the greater obsession of counting the day’s profit.
Imagination relates to matters that are not there, it is an essential element of Iman, which is the realm of trust in what is not there and without it there is no Islam, the realm of action and dealing with what is there. The rampant obsession with number has destroyed the ability to see the possibilities in favour of probable outcomes. People can no longer imagine a society different from the one in which we live; everyone knows it is an unjust disaster but cannot see how to change it. We have knowledge of what happened in Madinah, but what gives it life for us is the imagining of that reality and it is that imagination that we must project forward towards our future in order to bring it into actuality.
If you take the example of the re-establishment of real money, i.e. gold and silver, it takes imagination to bring it into being while its enemy, the pragmatic businessmen, pooh poohs it because he cannot see it, blinded by number and process. His awakening to gold has got nothing to do with a realisation of its necessity to bring back social justice, but rather its current valuation and his fear of loss. The imagination of the need for the return of real money comes from the perceived injustice created by financial skulduggery. Once you have an idea of something you can begin on its implementation. If you can’t imagine social justice and peace it is unlikely to occur as it can only come by implementing what is known about it. When the momentous decision to step outside the law of an unjust society is taken which culminates with a pair of Nike and a TV, now that is criminal, revealing that the lower end of the social scale is no different from the rapacious, ignominious upper.
A plan needs conception before drawing before building. It exists in the mind’s eye before its creation. Everything that comes into existence existed as a ‘source form’ on the ‘Protected Tablet’ -Lawh al-Mahfudh.
Our imagination should be limited to knowing that Allah may do whatever He wills and that He has a Sunnah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, and in His vastness and mercy, created man and sent His messengers to guide them. The message has been called ‘Huda’, guidance, ‘an-Nur’, light, ‘Sirat’, path and it has its ‘Hudud’, boundaries, and is a ‘Furqan’, a discrimination.
Allah has given us life and guidance on how to live it, which is liberating and not restrictive; free to wander in His garden respecting His boundaries which relate directly to our own humanity; to obey Allah and His Rasul is to be human. Allah gave us the great gift of imagination for a reason and it can only be to help us realise who He is, subhanahu wa ta’ala, and in that seeing follow the traces of the footsteps of the Rasulullah, sallallahu alayhi wa sallim.
I am in my Believer’s opinion of Me
This contains a great secret
Your belief about Him
Is the extent of your knowledge of Him
The extent of your knowledge of Him
Is the extent of your own nafs
The nature of your knowledge of Him
Is none other than your own
Knowledge of your nafs
Your limiting of Him is the
Bounding about of your own limitless nafs
Your Lord is to you what you are to Him
And there is no escaping this
You will not do other than you intend
You will not hold Him to be other than
What He holds you to believe
For you are confined in His confining of you
So let your belief in Him soar
Out of all association
That He may release you out of all forms
And all worlds
Realise that you know nothing of Him
Till you surrender your nafs to obliteration
And achieve the goal
Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi
This is a poem given to me by my master, Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi, while residing in the zawiyya in Bristol Gardens, London, in the early 1970’s.